Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image

Images & Voices of Hope | December 2, 2020

Scroll to top


Arianna Huffington: ‘If we in the media only show the dark side, we’re failing at our jobs’

Arianna Huffington: ‘If we in the media only show the dark side, we’re failing at our jobs’

Screenshot of Arianna Huffington (Source: YouTube)



Lots of media coverage focuses on what’s broken. Arianna Huffington wants to change that. Last week, she announced a new global initiative aimed at shifting the media’s focus from what’s broken to what’s working.

As part of the initiative, the Huffington Post is partnering USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism to help train student journalists to “paint the full picture of the human story.”

In a piece about the initiative, Huffington wrote:

“There’s an old saying in the news business, one that’s guided editorial thinking for decades: ‘If it bleeds, it leads.’ That is, stories of violence, tragedy, dysfunction and corruption get top billing — at the top of the hour, at the top of the computer or phone screen or above the newspaper fold — driven by the assumption that these are the stories the public will be most drawn to watch or read.

“This ethos is wrong, both factually and ethically. And it’s lousy journalism. As journalists, our job is to give our audience an accurate picture — and that means the full picture — of what’s going on in the world. Just showing tragedy, violence, mayhem — focusing on what’s broken and what’s not working — misses too much of what is happening all around us.”

Huffington’s remarks are very much in line with Images & Voices of Hope’s recent work. For the past two years, we’ve been studying Restorative Narrative — a genre stories that show how people and communities are rebuilding and recovering in the aftermath or midst of difficult times. As we wrote last July:

“In the wake of natural disasters, shootings, bombings, and other tragedies, the media tells us what happened, how many homes were devastated, who was killed or injured — all the facts that keep us informed. These stories are important, but they’re often confined to tragedy, despair and loss.

“As days and weeks pass, the media move on to new stories, often neglecting to tell the “what’s possible? stories about how the people and communities affected by these tragedies are coping and what they’re learning. We hear these types of stories on one-year anniversaries, but they’re not an ongoing part of the media’s coverage the way that the ‘what happened?’ stories are.

“…People’s appetite for news is changing, and with that change comes opportunity — to tell stories that shift the traditional journalistic focus from tragedy to recovery. Too often, journalists tell stories about the most dismal problems, thinking that ‘if it bleeds, it leads.’ These stories, though, can leave people feeling like the world is a cold and callous place…”

Like Huffington, we believe that stories that move beyond tragedy and trauma can impact people in ways that traditional “if it bleeds, it leads” stories can’t.

A growing body of research is confirming what many have long suspected — that a steady diet of traumatic news can trigger stress and fear.

By contrast, research suggests that news that highlights positive emotions builds people’s capacity to respond to crises and helps them see the good in others.

Positive psychologist Barbara Frederickson has found that witnessing and hearing about positive emotions such as kindness, generosity, compassion, gratitude, etc., can “broaden the scopes of attention, cognition and action and build physical, intellectual and social resources — enduring personal resources, which function as reserves to be drawn on later to manage future threats.”

Similarly, a 2011 study in the Journal of Psychology and Personality and Social Psychology looked at the warm, uplifting feeling people get from watching someone act with compassion or courage — a feeling that psychologists refer to as “moral elevation.” This feeling of elevation supports people’s belief in the goodness of humanity, induces positive emotions, and inspires people to act more altruistically.

These findings suggest the need for more Restorative Narratives that highlight renewal, resilience, and recovery. Stories about tragedy, problems, and crimes still need to be told; they keep us informed. But too often, these are the only stories we hear. There aren’t nearly as many stories that address how people and communities are learning to move on in the aftermath of tragedy.

Restorative Narratives, and stories that focus on what’s working, offer up an opportunity to change media — and news consumers — for the better. At their best, these narratives reflect the depth of human experience and paint a more accurate picture of the world, which is neither all bad or all good.

The world needs more stories like this.

(Want to find out more about Restorative Narrative? Join us at our annual media summit from June 25-28 in the Catskills, N.Y. We’ll talk about how Restorative Narrative plays out in a variety of media forms, including journalism, documentary film, photography, and gaming. We recently created a Restorative Narrative fellowship to deepen our understanding of this genre and to give more media practitioners an opportunity to tell these narratives. During the summit, our fellows will speak about their work and what they learned.)

Related: Arianna Huffington: ‘Give people hope so they can feel empowered’ to make changes